i Am Entertainment MAY/JUNE 2013 -Volume 4, Issue 22
Hits #1 On CMT and iHeartRadio Introducing the World to Long Island Country
BY Shaine Freeman PHOTOS Len Marks
“...I’m not your typical 25-year old country artist who just came into Nashville...I’m the mom who buys the tickets to a Taylor Swift concert, and the one who talks about what happens after you meet prince charming and wind up with bills...”
We’ve all heard that Nashville is the prime breeding ground for country music artists; and how the music business says that you have to be Taylor Swift’s age in order to have any real shot at building a truly successful music career. Well, Lisa Matassa is proving all of that wrong. She’s not only from Long Island, New York, a place that is not known for producing country music stars; but she’s also a wife and mother of two who just re-launched her music career in 2011. I say “re-launched” because, Lisa is no newcomer to the music business. Having recorded two Top 10 singles as a signed pop/dance artist before she was 20, Lisa shares with us the importance of going after your dreams, regardless of the “odds” that are seemingly stacked against us.
Tell us where you’re from and how you got your start?
I was born in New York and then my family moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. When I moved (to Florida) it was completely different from the way it is today. There was a lot of farmland and country music was really big at the time. I lived there for a good 10 years, during which time, I started singing. My whole family is into music so, I listened to a lot of Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, and Johnny Cash, and as I got a little older I developed an interest in Southern Rock. Between the ages of 9 - 14 (years old), I became classically trained in Opera, and then, around the summer of my 16th birthday, my parents decided to move back to New York. At the time, moving North was not something I wanted to do. But, my parents moved my two brothers and I back to New York during my sophomore year in high school, and I had to start all over again. The only thing that gave me strength was the fact that I could sing so, I immersed myself in music. Back then, New York didn’t have any outlets for country music, which was like culture shock for me! [laughs] The only music being played on the radio was dance or Rock n’ Roll so; there was a lot of KISS, Bon Jovi, and Pat Benatar being played. From that point on, rock music became my primary influence. But, my heart was still into country music.
“I have a true belief that God makes things happen for a reason.” - Lisa Matassa
So, how did you wind up becoming a dance/ pop artist?
When I was about 19 years old, I was offered a record deal to do freestyle dance music, but I wasn’t really interested in it at all. My dad was my manager at the time and he convinced me to give it a shot. He saw at as an opportunity for me to get my foot in “the door”. So, I figured if I can’t do the country music that I truly like to sing, then at least I’m going to have a name that sounded like a country artist, so I changed my name to Lysa Lynn (in homage to Loretta Lynn). I ended up doing really well with it. I had my 15 minutes of fame. I got to tour and open up for artists like Taylor Dayne and Brenda K. Starr. It was fun and I gained a lot of experience in front of larger audiences. But, in the end, I felt that this trained voice I had wasn’t being showcased on the music that I was singing, so my focused began to shift and I lost interest in being a dance artist.
I know that a lot of artists have a hard time seeing themselves doing anything other than recording and touring. What did you do next?
At that point I met my husband and put the dream of becoming a country music artist on hold because the timing just wasn’t right. Although I started raising a family, I continued writing, recording and performing every weekend. Fast forward to about 4 years ago, I went to my kids (daughter 17 and son 15) and said, “Your mom has always wanted to become a country singer. I know it sounds crazy because you don’t hear a lot of country music in New York, but I can’t deny what I have in my heart. I really want to sing country music, but I want to make country music with an edge.” I call it “Long Island Country”. It’s that great storytelling of a country song, with lyrics that really tug at your heart, but that edginess of New York rock n’ roll music; because that’s who I am. I told (my kids) that if I had their support I would take that huge leap of faith and see what happens. They were amazingly supportive and said that I should get out there and do it. I’m literally rolling the dice, at this point, but I don’t want my kids to ever think that once you reach a certain age you can’t really go after your dreams. No matter what happens in life, you can always take a chance and try to be or do something you thought you never could. I wanted to inspire my kids. So, with the support of my entire family, including my parents who have always supported me in my singing career, I decided to take a leap. I haven’t looked back and it’s been amazing. I have a true belief that God makes things happen for a reason. Anytime I felt that maybe it wasn’t the greatest thing to do, or things just weren’t going to happen, something would happen and a path would be shown to me that the timing was right and this is what I needed to do. I’m living each day like it’s the last day of my life, and with support of my family and a really great team behind me, I’m taking it as far as I can.
Clearly, timing is everything and it’s your time now. You currently have the #1 & #2 spots on the iHeartRadio Country chart. How cool is that?
Isn’t that nuts! I still can’t believe it’s at the top of iHeartRadio. The team that I have working with me are absolutely wonderful. To have people like Kirt Webster and Martha Moore, who are really important people in Nashville, in my corner is a true blessing. I’m really thankful that Somebody’s Baby is so relatable because it’s really resonating with country music fans. Let’s face it, I’m not your typical 25-year-old country artist who just came into Nashville, and I surely not the girl next door. I’m not trying to be someone that I’m not. I’m the mom next door who is a part of the 30 – 55 year old female country music demographic. I’m the mom who buys the tickets to a Taylor Swift concert, and the one who talks about what happens after you meet prince charming and wind up with bills, a house and a mortgage. I may be wrong but, I think that’s what is resonating with country music fans. It doesn’t really matter where you come from; country is a lifestyle. Just because I live in New York, it doesn’t mean that I’m less country than somebody living down South. It’s about family, faith and freedom. It comes out in your lyrics. It’s hearing a song like, Somebody’s Baby, and recognizing that I’m talking about your life. That’s what I love about country, and that’s what I want to be a part of.
Right! It’s not Christian just because you talk about your faith in God. It’s not white. It’s not black. It’s life music!
Exactly! Music is the universal language and I’m really grateful that country music has touched so many peoples’ lives. America’s finally catching on. When I first got to Nashville, there were no country radio stations in New York. I met with a guy named Ed Salamon, who is a legendary country programmer, and I asked him, “Do you think I’m wasting my time? I’m a wife and a mom, and I’m coming down to Nashville with this Long Island country sound.” But he loved what I was doing and was very supportive. He said that it was a shame that New York didn’t have a country music station because, if they did, I’d be right on that first row of people getting into the business as the first country music out of Long Island. What’s funny is that, he must’ve thrown it out there to somebody in his network because, within 12 hours of us having that meeting, Ed called my manager and said, “You’re not going to believe this, but WJVC is going live on the air at midnight as the first country station on Long Island.” We were shocked! The next morning, I got an email from the station’s program director saying they read about me in a New York newspaper and were really happy to hear that I was from Long Island. That was the first station I had ever visited, and I performed right there in the station’s conference room. Like I said before, God does everything for a reason and the timing was just right. Now there is WNSH/Nash 94.7 FM, also in New York. Country is taking over. [laughs]
It’s funny you say that because, country has taken over. Artists from other genres listen to country music for inspiration because of the truthful storytelling you have in your songs.
It’s all about evoking that emotion from the listener. That’s what I try to do as an artist and a songwriter. I write about real life. The songs that are on my album and my EP come from a place of experience. There’s a song on my album called, Learning As You Grow, and it’s about my kids. There is no manual on parenting so, you learn as they grow. How do you relate to your 17 year old who is going through totally different things than you did when you were her age? You’re trying to be her friend but, at the same time, be her parent. Along the way you’re saying to yourself, ‘I’ve never done this before. Am I doing the right thing?’ The same goes for her. There’s a give and take, and so many people can relate to that. That’s what I’m most happy about. It’s actually touching people of all ages, which is really what I’m trying to do.
What’s I found so cool about your situation is that you’re an independent artist doing all this with no major label backing.
Yes, but I couldn’t do it without my family’s support and the wonderful team I have. But I must say that I’ve knocked down many doors in my lifetime to live this dream. Unlike when I first started, today’s artists have so many different avenues that have leveled the “playing field”. Nowadays, you can go on shows like American Idol, or you can use the internet and build a following on YouTube, social media, internet radio; there are so many outlets for independent artists to get through the door. I want to make sure that my journey is documented. I want to take my fans on this journey with me and show them the behind-the-scenes; whether it’s video shoots, the ACM Awards, or CMA’s. I’m trying to keep on top of that. I understand that you can only go so far as an independent artist, but I am trying to see how far I can take it on my own.
Because you’ve been so successful as an independent, what advice can you give to other indie artists who may be struggling to reach your level of success?
There is a team. My husband, who is also my manager, is a huge support person for me, and my dad is my #1 fan. [laughs]. They believe in me. Finding people who believe in your music and your art is so important. You need to surround yourself with people who are truthful and honest, and have the same goals as you. Just make sure your name, face, music, and everything about you is out there all the time. Make sure it’s in the peripheral of everyone; but in a positive light. If there’s a cause that you like, then take part in it, and use your little soap box to bring awareness to it. For instance, my nephew has autism and cerebral palsy so, I’ve always been supportive of the Sidewalk Angels Foundation and the Cerebral Palsy Foundation. Now that I’m at a point where I can bring awareness to them, I’m doing all I can to broadcast that. I think it’s important to show all sides of yourself so that people know you are more than just a singer/performer. Show that you actually care about things that are bigger than yourself. You also have to believe in yourself and develop really thick skin because there will be people out there who will try to knock you down every step of the way. You have to put the blinders on, take their advice with a grain of salt and keep striving toward your goals. But remember to pace yourself because it’s all about timing. Slow and steady wins the race. I’m not trying to get all religious on you, but my faith plays a big part in my career. When I was about 8 years old, I was singing a Debby Boone song in my bedroom and my dad overheard me. He walked in at the end of the song and dropped to his knees, my mom was right behind him, and he was so expressive when he said, “Lisa, you can sing! I can’t believe how you can sing.” I remember his face and the way he was looking at me with such sincerity and said, “God gives everyone, when they are born, a very special gift. It could be the gift of voice or art, or maybe even the gift of gab. But, God gives you something that you are responsible to take and nurture it, and then share it with everyone else. That’s what you have, you have the gift to sing.” I have lived with that my entire life. Whether I’m going into a meeting or a performance, I say my prayers before everything I do. For instance, when I went to CMT to interview and play them my video I said, “Lord, if it’s your perfect will and CMT wants to put this video on, then great. If it’s not going to happen then I’m okay with it because it’s up to You. I’m doing what I’m supposed to do for You.” After I played them the video of my version of The Christmas Song, I never thought in a million years they’d broadcast it. Well, that video wound up at #1 on CMT and it confirmed to me that I’m supposed to be here right now.
You have over 500,000 followers on Twitter and nearly 200,000 on Facebook. How cool is it to know you have so many peoples’ attention?
I know, it’s just crazy! I can’t believe it every time I log on. Recently, my song, Somebody’s Baby, was placed in a few thousand restaurants like Burger King, Taco Bell, and KFC; places that have in-network dining TV. My song was played maybe 10 times a day, so all these views started coming through and I think the video has a little over 4 million hits now. In Europe, this song did so well that we actually released my next single, I Won’t Ask, overseas first and it already debuted at #38. When I see the followers on social media going up, I try to acknowledge them as much as I can. I want them to know that they are all significant to me. The fact that they take the time to write me and say that they love my music, or they share whatever experience they had with my songs, I love that! The performing part is great and that’s my element, but when I get done I don’t want to go straight home. The best part about this career is meeting the fans when I get off stage because, country music fans are the most loyal fans you’re going to find. They are so awesome! I want to meet those people who are waiting to talk to me, take a picture with me and get my autograph. That’s the great part of this business and I’m happy to have the opportunity to do that.
“...remember to pace yourself because it’s all about timing. Slow and steady wins the race. ” - Lisa Matassa